The function of interleukin-18 (IL-18) was investigated in pertinent animal models of rodent rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to determine its proinflammatory and monocyte recruitment properties.
We used a modified Boyden chemotaxis system to examine monocyte recruitment to recombinant human (rhu) IL-18 in vitro. Monocyte recruitment to rhuIL-18 was then tested in vivo by using an RA synovial tissue (ST) severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mouse chimera. We defined monocyte-specific signal-transduction pathways induced by rhuIL-18 with Western blotting analysis and linked this to in vitro monocyte chemotactic activity. Finally, the ability of IL-18 to induce a cytokine cascade during acute joint inflammatory responses was examined by inducing wild-type (Wt) and IL-18 gene-knockout mice with zymosan-induced arthritis (ZIA).
We found that intragraft injected rhuIL-18 was a robust monocyte recruitment factor to both human ST and regional (inguinal) murine lymph node (LN) tissue. IL-18 gene-knockout mice also showed pronounced reductions in joint inflammation during ZIA compared with Wt mice. Many proinflammatory cytokines were reduced in IL-18 gene-knockout mouse joint homogenates during ZIA, including macrophage inflammatory protein-3α (MIP-3α/CCL20), vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VEGF), and IL-17. Signal-transduction experiments revealed that IL-18 signals through p38 and ERK½ in monocytes, and that IL-18-mediated in vitro monocyte chemotaxis can be significantly inhibited by disruption of this pathway.
Our data suggest that IL-18 may be produced in acute inflammatory responses and support the notion that IL-18 may serve a hierarchic position for initiating joint inflammatory responses.